On my recent trip to Exmoor National Park, I was overwhelmed by the sheer scale of uninterrupted ragged coastlines and broad landscapes saturated in green. Dense countryside stretching out as far as the eye can see; Exmoor is strikingly expansive.
Yet dotted among the great rolling hills are many quintessential country towns, dramatic viewpoints and stunning landmarks inherited by the National Trust. With a few days to spare, you could easily explore the best of Exmoor’s adventurous lands but be prepared for the longing to return. To get you started, I’m sharing my top 10 things to do and see…
1 | Have a classic British afternoon at Kitnors Tea Room and Gardens
In the tiny town of Bossington, Kitnors Tea Room and Gardens is a summer favourite, offering homemade baked goods and light lunches to neighbours and those lucky enough to find it. Using local produce cooked up in a 15th century thatched cottage, it has served cream teas for over 50 years in its beautifully kept lush garden… a perfect stop off after exploring Bossington Beach and the surrounding countryside.
2 | Explore the gardens of Dunster Castle
The ancient Dunster Castle is an obvious sight to include in your Exmoor plans, however make sure to leave time to explore the surrounding gardens that spiral up to the towers. The sound of running water can be heard among thick nature paths, leading on towards old bridges and patches of open gardens.
If you are visiting on a Wednesday or Saturday, you can also take advantage of the historic Dunster Castle Express which steams ahead through coastal views on to Dunster Station.
3 | Sit on the top of Dunkery Beacon
At 519 metres above the sea, Dunkery Beacon is the highest point in Exmoor, topped with a large cairn that is perfect for perching on. Panoramic views take you from Dartmoor to Wales stretching across fields and the ocean. But don’t fear, the hike isn’t long or steep, with just a 20 minute slight uphill walk from the nearby car park.
4 | Ride the Lynton/Lynmouth Railway
The famous funicular railway that connects the Cliffside towns is an unmissable experience, offering beautiful views of the coastline as you descend to the harbour town of Lynmouth below. Completely powered by water, the two cars pull each other along the cliff face, controlled by friendly guards.
5 | Look out for Exmoor’s beautiful wildlife
Rich in moorlands and dense forests, Exmoor is home to a range of habitats providing a home for some of the UK’s most beloved wildlife. Otters, rare butterflies and bats can be seen among the long grass and if you’re lucky, you may even spot one of the majestic red deer who populate this part of the country.
6 | Spot the Exmoor ponies
Perhaps the most exciting find among the National Park are the Exmoor ponies, commonly seen on the open moors. The ponies themselves are not completely wild – as all are owned by someone – but roam free among the park in herds. Of course be careful when approaching all wildlife and make sure to keep any gates you come across shut in order to keep the animals safe from the roads.
7 | Paddle in the streams at Watersmeet
A short downward walk through thick forest to the sound of trickling water will take you to Watersmeet, a beautiful river gorge hidden from the roads and towns above. Here you’ll find a former fishing lodge serving cream teas and hot pasties to the dozens of families that flock to paddle in the flowing streams. Bring a picnic if you want to avoid the queue!
8 | Drive along the Heritage Coast
The jagged cliffs that line Exmoor come together to create the Heritage Coast, a number of beaches, seaside towns and monuments along the way. Start at Combe Martin making your way to Minehead and Bossington. Slightly further East, you’ll reach Lynmouth, the Valley of the Rocks and Woody Bay, where a small beach can be found as well as dramatic views and harbours. Take a drive along the narrow winding road that follows the hilly coast but go easy… there’s not a lot between you and the tumbling cliffs!
9 | Dangle on the edge of Castle Rock
The Valley of the Rock’s pièce de résistance is Castle Rock, a mammoth natural structure leaning out over the sharp drop to the ocean. An amateur path leads you to the top where the most daring can perch on the edge. I nervously bum shuffled over and refused to dangle my legs (for the fear of losing my shoes I told myself), but it was worth it for the total feeling of freedom!
10 | End the day at Porlock Weir
A perfect spot to end a day in Exmoor is Porlock Weir, a small town surrounding a harbour packed with sailing and rowing boats. Overnight parking makes it a popular spot for touring caravans and the beautiful calm blue waters against the darkening sky make for a magical evening.